#DearYusuf: Were you an apartheid spy?
I wish to follow your good example and state from the onset that I take off all my professional hats (okay, it’s actually just one hat), and write this open letter as a concerned citizen who respects your leading role in our society under your many professional hats.
In your own defence against a barrage of twitter questions at the weekend regarding your alleged links to the apartheid regime in the 1980s, you tweeted a quote by archbishop emeritus Desmond Tutu: “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” In the light of the grave allegations made against you, your choice of such a profound quote to fend off an avalanche of inquisitive twitteratti was curious and ironic, to say the least. Here is a man facing accusations regarding his alleged apartheid collaboration and spying, yet he sermonises on the necessity for courage in the face of injustice. Should we take this as your coded response to the twitter inquisitors that, far from being an apartheid conspirator and defender, you were in fact a courageous anti-apartheid struggle activist who defied the system in pursuit of a noble course for liberation? Or should we take this as a confirmation that, given that the apartheid regime regarded struggle activists as bloodthirsty terrorists, your alleged apartheid role rejected neutrality to courageously protect the white minority regime from the Black threat?
I’m not naive. I know well that chances that such clarity would ever see the light of day anytime soon are almost non-existent. Instead of providing this simple clarification, you have resorted to twitter blocking to silence anyone who dare ask or retweet the question. I personally felt honored to have been consigned to what I call the “Abramjee Blocked Hall of Fame”. Given your propensity to silence those you disagree with, it won’t surprise if one is banned from future participation in all radio station under your management at Primedia. As a social activist and veteran newsman, you live by that lofty principle that everyone must be held to the highest standards of accountability. However, ‘everyone’ must not include you, right? Abramjee asks difficult questions to those in authority, Abramjee criticizes, and Abramjee even writes to the President and demand answers within few hours. However, Abramjee is answerable to no one!
At the weekend a letter published in the Business Day resurfaced on social media circles containing revelations regarding your alleged questionable links to the apartheid government of the National Party. The letter was penned in 2012 by anti-apartheid activist Subethri Naidoo, who personally knew you during the apartheid days as part of the Ladium community and a student at a teachers’ college. The letter also confidently spoke of the writer’s knowledge of your father, allegedly a member of the apartheid tricameral parliament representing Indians at the time. I must say Naidoo paints a disturbing picture of you – our revered and upright ‘bastion of social activism’ – as a vocal defender of the Nats, a trusted spy and a loyal propagandist of the apartheid regime. Naidoo says you, ‘an advocate of press freedom’, used to work for a Nats-funded local newspaper aimed at propping up an illegitimate state and the untold sufferings it perpetrated against Black people. Naidoo, he stressed, was prompted to pen this history due to some people’s admirable ability to “transform themselves with chameleon-like agility and speed in an attempt to recreate their chequered histories”.
Most of us who saw the letter for the first time at the weekend were naturally shocked and astounded by these revelations. In our disbelief, or perhaps denial, we inevitably pondered whether Naidoo could be harboring a Bonang-Dj Zintle type of ‘beef’ against you from your college days many years ago. We just couldn’t accept it that this paragon of goodness and nobility, a warrior against crime, not only associated with with the system that criminally terrorised Black communities and inflicted lifelong pain to many families, but he also actively aided its operations.
Naidoo’s letter would probably have stood like a sore thumb as an information source had it not been corroborated by your online CV, published on the Who’s Who SA website, which states you served the National Party government in department of administration and defence as Chief Public Relations Officer in 1987. Apartheid SADF carried out a number of operations against the ANC and other liberation movements both locally and in exile, bombing ANC’s bases, killing many innocent activists and children. Does it mean, as a public relations officer, you were responsible for defending the actions of this department, including building, maintaining and managing its reputation – as PR people are paid to do?
Am I right in my skepticism that you would not be responding to these serious claims any time soon?
I ask this question rhetorically of course, even though I still have at the back of my mind yet-to-be responded claims made by Chris Vick a few years ago regarding alleged conflict of interest during your leadership of the National Press Council (NPC). The NPC, a club/company that is listed on the Companies and Intellectual Property Commission database, has you and former SABC news editor Elsabe Smit as directors. Vick detailed a number of potential conflict of interests and good governance breaches at the NPC at the time, including individuals serving on the NPC executive committee doubling as service providers to it.
Amid all these revelations, and because of what all of us have come to know you as an impeccable leader in our society and model citizen, there is a part of us us which still wants to believe all these accusations are not true.
Only you can put these claims to rest. You can either counter these claims with irrefutable facts of your own, or admit them so that the past can be put where it rightfully belongs, in the past. All of us can then move on. There are many South Africans who have owned up to their own chequered past, including through the Truth and Reconciliation Commission process, and are now playing productive roles in our society.
The question that was posted on twitter by many of us, whom you referred to as “trolls”, is simple: were you you an apartheid collaborator and spy?
This question is not aimed at defaming your ‘good’ name, or tarnishing your reputation as a paragon of press freedom, or attack you for writing an open letter to the President last week. The question is about transparency and accountability to the millions of South Africans who have put faith in you due to the reputation you have build, as Naidoo puts it, as a ‘defender of all that is good and noble’, a crime fighter par excellence.
Given the prominent role you play in society as a champion of press freedom, the public deserves to know if you served the National Party-sponsored media that played a vital role in the disinformation and propaganda campaign, justifying the immoral actions of the apartheid state.
As one of the vehement opponents of the Protection of State Information Bill which you likened to an apartheid ‘secrecy’ legislation, the public’s concerns regarding whether your actions smack of unashamed hypocrisy ought to be allayed.
Given your commanding role as the leader of the country’s leading anti-crime campaign, the public deserves to know if you, instead of writing #DearMrPresident to PW Botha and FW De Klerk condemning them for their apartheid crimes, you vocally defended or aided their regimes’ operations. Needless to say, the United Nations declared the system under which you allegedly served “a crime against humanity”.
Contrary to what you, rather defensively, claimed in the media, the majority of us harbour no desire to persecute you for writing the letter to the President. Crime affects all of us, the majority of us face it each day. We don’t experience it only in the media pages. The family of the President, whom you accused in your letter of not caring about crime, itself suffered a dehumanizing criminal attack a while ago. Neither the President nor his government are sitting down folding arms hoping Abramjee’s letter would one day rescue them from slumber and spur them into action. Crime remains a societal challenge, but is being vociferously fought everyday in line with government’s comprehensive anti-crime strategies and programmes.
All that we ask from you is for you to walk the talk and account to the nation: Were you an apartheid collaborator and spy? To paraphrase Tutu, did you aid a situation of apartheid injustice; did you choose the side of the oppressor or the oppressed? DM
Moloto Mothapo is senior manager for media and communication at the ANC parliamentary caucus. Previously he worked as information officer, and also acted as spokesperson, for the Congress of SA Trade Unions. He holds a degree in journalism. This letter contains strictly his personal views.